Saturday, 26 February 2011

Sewing Stanley

Whenever I am reviewing a book that contains instructions on making things of apparent loveliness I always try out one of the projects myself.  I  imagine I am an absolute beginner who has chosen to make something for its sheer desirability.  I don't think anyone, greedily gobbling up all this colour and flowery delightfulness comes over all sensible and selects something on the basis that it was suitable for a novice.  It is so disappointing if a book promises more than it delivers

The biggest difficulty I have with the three gorgeous books by Cath Kidston, Sew! Stitch! and Make! is the huge choice.

A union flag pencil case perhaps...

It may look as though I have already made this perfect Cath Kidston take on our national flag but I have not.  It is all down to the great photography and clever styling in this book that all the pictures of the projects look as though you could just reach into the page and appropriate the pieces of Cath Kidtson's whimsical cleverness for yourself.

Perhaps I should make the little purse, all the materials for which are tucked into the cover pocket of Stitch!

In the end I chose Stanley

Each book has some extra goodies in a pocket inside the front cover

As well as the little kit to make the purse described in Stitch! and a needle case filled with needles and a needle threader inside Sew! there are patterns and charts to help make birds, flowers, a plane...

And of course a pattern for Stanley

The model for this  little soft canine bean bag, and a number of the CK doggy fabric prints, is Cath's wire haired fox terrier Stanley.  I wanted my project to be made entirely from my stash of fabric and trimmings and it just so happened I had some Stanley print.  I didn't have any suitable 'beans' for filling so I had the idea of putting  a layer of polyester wadding either side of a piece of heavy duty interfacing, as well as applying a piece of iron on interfacing to each of the outer fabric pieces.

Allocating last evening for making up my project I wanted something that was  hand sewn.  Friday night is not a time for setting up the sewing machine and working away in my craft room while JTH sits by the fire sipping wine and watching something not very challenging on television.

The instructions are simple and very clearly explained.  Any tricky techniques and the reader is referred back to the clearly illustrated section at the front of each book which explains all the basics .  This section also contains more lovely photographs of the equipment everyone needs (or perhaps desires) for a well stocked work basket, set out like beautiful collages. 

Stanley is sewn together on the outside with slip stitching.  This might sound rather labour intensive but as well as the actual act of hand sewing being soothing (well I find it so) it also helps in easing the pieces together to get the shape right.  I also think details such as the curvy tail would be very hard to achieve by the 'rights sides together, seam and turn right way out' method. The instructions were simple straight forward and easy to follow

As I began to sew my little dog up I remembered while I didn't have any polystyrene beads, I did have lavender so I abandoned my poly wadding idea and used lavender following the stuffing method in the book (use a small teaspoon and add a little at a time). 

I didn't have any felt to make the collar and identity disc.  But I did have ribbon and a tiny silver dime, with a hole in it.  I found it on the pavement near my home when I was a child, the dime has been kept with my jewelry and moved from box to box ever since.  I knew it would come in handy one day!

All three books are a real joy.  Full of wonderful projects, good just to look at as well as make and fill your home with happiness. No 1 daughter (whose kitchen contains china and linen in Cath Kidston pinks, blues and greens) spotted the books when she came to call this morning and poured over the illustrations with many oohs and ahs.

As the sun shone briefly this afternoon I nipped out into the garden with Stanley and photographed him amongst the crocuses

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Vintage material

I bought my first batch of vintage knitting patterns out of sheer curiosity.  I have written before about how my mother and mother-in-law had been great knitters throughout their lives.  They were both young women in the second world war, when to be well dressed women had to be resourceful and crafty.  So I assume if they wanted a new jumper or cardigan they set to and got knitting.  Yet despite both women having carefully conserved and very well stocked work baskets, that I inherited; no patterns survived from their war years.

Then I spotted that someone was selling a large bundle of mixed patterns on EBay.  It was a great 'win'.  The bundle contained patterns for men, women and children.   It was no good just looking, I needed to see what it would be like to knit one of the patterns up. 

While not wanting to depart too far from the spirit of 'make do and mend' I also wanted the finished article to be a thing of loveliness.  In my stash I had some Debbie Bliss pure silk.

I chose a little button up to the neck number with a small collar.  For the cardigan to be wearable, I am not at all sure about the pockets with buttoned flaps high up on the front.  I intend to knit mock flaps attached in such a way that I can remove them if they don't look right.  I am also making it a little longer.  I understand that CC41 regulations restricted the length of all sorts of clothing (including banning turn ups on men's trousers) to save fabric and yarn but I am not going to be too purist

With not enough in either colour to make a whole garment I decided to have both.  Using both colours with the darker shade for the ribbing and lighter for the rest also seemed a gesture towards doing the best with what you have got.

Usually I am very impatient to begin knitting, far too impatient to knit a tension swatch and I was certainly raring to go here but good sense prevailed. The pattern called for Paton's Beehive Scotch Fingering 2 ply (presumably in one of the utility colours black, grey, brown, navy, bottle green or Maroon) and needles size 9 and 11 (3 and 3 3/4 mm).  The Debbie Bliss silk knits up nearer to four ply but I found, even using the same size needles, which are slightly smaller than those DB recommends, it knitted up reasonably close to the stated tension when I knitted the square. 

The honey comb pattern is achieved by reversing the direction of a simple four stitch cable so that the twists face each other, then face away, alternately. The soft, silky and drapey yarn is a joy to knit with, as you might expect.

But gosh the pattern is in a tiny size 32-34 inch bust. They say that that the rations in WW2 ensured a very healthy diet and that this, together with almost every able bodied adult working their socks off for the war effort, ensured a slim svelte population...sigh!  I needed to add some more stitches to make up a bigger size

I have recently discovered that I knit rather in the same way I read books.  Just as I have one book for my handbag (train journeys) one in the sitting room and one beside my bed so I have three or four knitting projects on the go (one for knitting group, one for  television watching...)  This one's not quite finished, when it is I will post more pictures.



Sunday, 20 February 2011

Stylish Blogger Award


I have been awarded a 'Stylish Blogger Award' by Tanya at
I am very flattered, I have been blogging for less than 2 months and am still learning loads from other blogs I visit.

The rules of the award are:-

1.  That I should thank the person who gave me the award, which I have done.

2.  That I should share seven things with you about me that you didn't know.

Here goes:
a)  I am married with four adult children (age 29, 28, 26 and 23) a granddaughter too but readers know about her!
b)  In my 20s I quallified as a general nurse, midwife and health visitor
c)  In 1994 I graduated in Law from Cambridge university - one of my proudest achievements
d)  I worked as a solicitor for 8 years and am now legal director of a charity
e)  I have knitted, sewed and embroidered almost as long as I have been able to read (which I began age 4)
f)   I am a little over zealous about tidiness - I like my linen cupboard all folds to the front and have three very carefully ordered stashes, wool, fabric and haberdashery - I only stop short of producing a written catalogue
g)  I have a very naughty profligate shopping habit

3.  That I should also name another 15 blogs.

Here goes:-

Off now to let the 15 people above know I have nominated them.

Thank you Tanya at Cards with a difference.

Catherine x

Friday, 18 February 2011


I learned from one of this blog's readers last week that ripping out knitting is called frogging because of the sound it makes 'ribbit ribbit' when the work is unraveled.  I rarely unravel with wild abandon, mainly I unpick stitch by stitch as I am always a little fearful that I will go too far.  But it occurred to me that, in the style of Chinese whispers, rip-it rip-it sounds like ribbit ribbit.  And this is what I did last night.

A little while ago I made a hat, muffler and mittens for my granddaughter in one of my favourite yarns, Baby Cashmerino by Debbie Bliss.  I knitted free hand and you may say that is where I went wrong

But I loved the knitting particularly all the fiddly bits, the bell frill at the bottom of the muffler

and the bunch of hare bells on the side of the hat (the same flowers as I used for my Knitting a name project)

But the hat was far too small for the baby girl who has a beautiful shock of thick light brown curls

So I frogged it...

And am making something much bigger

I hope it is not too big! The circular needle is 18" from needle tip to needle tip, the first hat had a circumference of 18" so I am hoping I am OK making it 30 stitches larger.

Happy weekend everyone!



Monday, 14 February 2011

Hearts no flowers

My naturally perverse nature always whispers to me 'take a different path' rather than follow the crowd.  So when shops are festooned with red hearts, full of cards for every conceivable taste and even electrical superstores seem to find a product that they can promote as the 'Ideal gift for your Valentine',  I am tempted to sit at home and mutter bah humbug!  It's OK because JTH is of the same mind as me. 

But the blogosphere, with crochet hearts, origami hearts and even heart shaped  mint creams, seems to have worked its magic on me and this weekend I found myself gazing at this bowl of strawberries and thinking how like a dish of hearts they were.

It was just a short step down the slippery slope of Valentineness to begin thinking what I might knit in the shape of a heart.  The idea comes from a new book by Debbie Bliss that is waiting for me to review. 

The hearts are knitted in pairs and sewn together invisibly before stringing together.

A little trio of hearts strung on a ribbon

The tiny mobile is quite light so I weighted the ribbon down with some frosted glass beads

It was a beautiful  day today, bright sun, clear blue sky, as I hung the hearts in a tree to take this last shot I noticed the leaf buds were fattening fit to burst - Spring can not be far away!

Happy Valentine's day



Friday, 11 February 2011

Knitting a name

The idea for knitted letters spelling my granddaughter's name came to me when I was shopping one weekend and saw these letters in Tiger

A little imagination was required, and a small fret saw, to remove the odd extra appendage and get the spelling right.  What I really love with projects like this is thinking about what I need to do to produce the right effect.  I chose lovely Wendy Supreme DK cotton, in pretty colours with a lovely sheen.

Originally I was going to knit tubes with a giant 'knitting dolly' but that was not going to work on anything other than the 'S' and 'I' (I know there isn't an 'I' here but that's coming).  In the end I decided to knit pieces in roughly the shape as the letters and wrap them round the wooden forms.  So I set off and cast on, knitting in roughly the right direction increasing and decreasing to get the slants right and making gussets and slits to fit round places like the bar of the A.  Where I needed to increase on the front of the letter I kept it neat in the 'fully fashioned' style.

Having the S in mirror image was not a deliberate mistake, it was a real mistake!  I looked and looked again, turning my head to one side, and still could not see what I had done wrong.  After DS1 had pointed out the error of my ways, I just had to undo (does anyone know why this is called frogging - is it a bloggy term?) and turn it around.  I padded the letters lightly with polyester wadding and fixed the knitted covers at the back just by overlapping and stitching.  The joy of something as flexible as knitted fabric is as long as it is roughly the right shape it can be made to fit by stretching gently and plumping it out with light padding. 

The little knitted flowers, heart, star and butterfly come from Knitted Edgings & Trims by Lesley Stanfield.  I have stitched little plastic rings on the back of each letter to hang them on the wall.

Enjoy your weekend everyone



Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Sock excitement

I would never have thought of knitting socks but I can't help admiring my first effort. I have tried knitting in the round before and always the piece I was knitting turned out twisted and uneven with ladder like stripes of loose stitches running up the length.  But the more I looked at other peoples blogs and websites it seemed that knitting a good pair of socks was practically a prerequisite of being a knitting blogger, a wooly graduation piece.  And who could fail to be inspired by this photograph? A kind twitter friend told me about the wonderful on line shop for all things socky p2tog from where I bought two balls of self striping Opal sock yarn new double pointed needles and received a free pattern too.

 Blogging about my knitting has made me think more before embarking on a new project.  I wondered why I always got the ladder effect of loose stitches when I used DPNS.  Perhaps everyone knows this but it occurred to me if I knitted one stitch off the following needle all the way round so that the stitches constantly changed paces on the needles I would avoid this unevenness.  It worked.  I was completely astonished to find that from the very beginning I loved knitting my socks.

What also kept me knitting 'just one more round' was the yarn. Self striping yarn means just that, as you knit, up comes a new colour and all you want to do is knit more to see how the stripes will turn out.

I took my socks to my first ever knitting group and one of the other members supervised me turning my first heel.  Needing stitch markers I made my own.  I'm completely won over, even the men in my household are impressed (they may be receiving socks as presents one day).

The pattern came with very helpful instructions on adjusting the size of your socks, I knit a little tightly, and needed to make the the socks larger (following instructions stitches are added in multiples of four) and longer.  I still had enough yarn in one 100gm ball. 

Right of passaged completed.

Friday, 4 February 2011

The knitter's year by Debbie Bliss

One of the truly exciting things about blogging on something I love doing so much is that occasionally I am asked to blog a review of a new knitting book.  It has happened a few times now but I still get excited when a large envelope from Yvonne at Quadrille Publishing is sitting on our hall table when I get home from work.  I know that after supper I can flick through the pages and plan my next project.  After all I think it is only fair before reviewing to test drive the instructions given in the books.

However, I could recommend The Knitter's Year by knitting designer and producer of gorgeous yarns, Debbie Bliss  as a book that gives pleasure just in the way it looks, feels and in the way she writes.  Why not? I often buy a book about art or architecture (more often than not as a present for JTH ) and there is never a guilty thought about not tackling a project (what would I do? paint a portrait, build a house?) but with a knitting or sewing book I have to make a real effort not to have that guilty feeling that I should only buy if I am also going to make.  But if you are not a knitter please remember you can still buy this beautiful book for the sheer pleasure it gives the senses (you can always persuade someone like me to make something for you!)

Look at the cover and the pretty baby cardigan and coat hanger in front of the shabby chic set of drawers (wouldn't this be just great for my wool stash?) and you know you could love this book for purely aesthetic reasons.  Like lots of Quadrille books it has high quality thick mat paper. The photography is very very good, with a limited colour palette, punctuated by one or two gentle splashes of colour.

I was very pleased with the image above then reminded myself that it is just a photograph of a photograph and someone else did all the clever stuff.   I spent a lovely evening turning the pages and reading the little introductions to each pattern.  Even as a knitter I could  just love the book for its looks and the way it makes me happy to see something so elegantly set out, season by season, but I also want to make up so many of the projects it was quite hard to choose.

Perhaps a necklace from Spring

Or a chunky scarf from Winter

In the end I chose to make the  lavender bags from Summer

Ever since the Summer Of The Moth Infestation I like to have as many nice smelling things in my wardrobe and chest of drawers.  At the time we had to resort to the 'agent orange' version of household insecticide as  the moths had even eaten holes in our carpets!  But since then I have learned that plenty of cedar wood and lavender smelling stuff around is a good preventative.

The little lavender bags don't take much yarn so I suppose I could have made them from stash but I wanted to make a little set in the coordinating colours from the Debbie Bliss yarn range.  I did add some twiddly bits of my own as I wanted to be able to hang the little bags from coat hangers.  The spotty ribbon seemed perfect and comes from RE-found objects . The lavender came from The Lavender Fields .  Now a few words of warning, lavender is very light so a small weight comes in quite a large box.  I did not pay proper attention to this little fact and now have plenty of yarn, ribbon AND lavender to make quite a lot more bags.

I was perhaps a little more pleased with the results than I should be to stay within the bounds of modesty but I do think they look very pretty. 

If you are someone who looks very closely at pictures on blogs you may have seen the yellow bag making an early appearance here two weeks ago.  I found it was a perfect partner for the suit carrier I made, in fact I made three more suit carriers and they each have their own lavender bags.

Happy weekend everyone

xxx  C


Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Almost knitting

I hope you will forgive a tiny diversion into the realms of dressmaking today.  I promise a return to the usual mix of vintage, new and general woolly, knitty stuff later in the week.  I beg your indulgence and in my defence plead that I am, after all, sewing with a knitted fabric.  I bought the fabric after having a bloggy chat with Florence  on 7 October last year she blogged about Liberty print jersey and it sent me flying over to  sewbox where I bought this beautiful jersey in a monochrome rose pattern. 

Unfortunately I am not sure whether Leah at sewbox has it in stock at the moment, I couldn't find any today when I checked her on line shop.  But I do know it is rather tricky to get and feel very privileged to have been able to capture the monochrome rose print while it was available.

Florence suggested that the fabric should be washed before cutting out as it can shrink a little when first washed.  It was also a great chance to photograph the print in all its glory on a sunny January day.

Once again my very useful table was conscripted for cutting out.

I have mentioned my extra long pins before and they were perfect for the jersey too as they held the pattern in place very firmly and later, when I was sewing up, the edges of the fabric pieces.

The jersey was bought on a whim - how could I resist? I just had to have some of its lovliness - but then I wondered how I would make it up.  I had a small moan to Florence that I don't have an over-locker and even strayed a little into John Lewis to see how much one would cost.  But,  Florence's good advice was that I first tried the super stretch stitch on my regular machine. I think it is one of the loveliest things about blogging that so many kind and talented people are happy to swap ideas and advise on tricky bits. 

It worked!  I had no idea how brilliant my machine was (well it does not really get to show off properly when I only ask it to make curtains).  Not only did I discover super stretch stitch but also a twin needle function that gave the sleeve ends the perfect 'shop bought' finish and an invisible hem stitch for knits (thank you Elna)

I am feeling a little smug, the dress is my first proper attempt at sewing with knits and I love it. It had its first outing to a very grown up occasion yesterday and behaved impeccably.  I say behaved because the neckline is quite low and although it sits well when I stand up straight, I was a little concerned it may gape as I sat down or leaned forward and distract from my argument (the day job is quite serious) but it stayed in exactly the right place all day